BY CELINE WONG
His voice echoes throughout the venue: "Clack, clack..." -- the entire audience pauses to synchronize for the answer to the signature Kardinal Offishall chant -- "...RELOAD!"
Amazing, isn't it? A Canadian hip-hop artist who can single-handedly bring the energy level of a crowd to equal, and sometimes even surpass that of visiting American counterparts? It's easy to remember the days when strategically planning the quickest route to the bar took precedence over acknowledging the fact that a local artist was up onstage.
It's the kinetic personality of Kardinal, Jason Harrow's alter ego and his mass-moving tactics that provoke an incredible state of audience participation. He has also been a catalyst in the development of a new T.O. sound -- with Saukrates, Choclair, Ghetto Concept and up-and-comers Frankenstein and Citizen Kane by his side, he's now building a foundation for the scene. And showing love for our own is becoming habitual.
"It's getting a lot better now, just from the responses I've gotten from my show," says Jason in a recent interview. "Toronto, they're building up their appreciation. I think the reason for that is that before they didn't know how to handle showing support for each other. They think by showing support it's saying 'Oh, I'm on your jock' or 'I'm a groupie of yours.' They don't understand that you can show love and be down with somebody and it's not belittling yourself. People are realizing now that by showing somebody else love, that furthers [the artist's] career, but also furthers us as a whole community."
After achieving underground acclaim in '96 with the track "Naughty Dread," released on Beat Factory's RapEssentials Vol.1, Kardinal now has his rapturous fusion of hip-hop and dancehall reggae and unadulterated charisma documented on his first full-length release, Eye & I, out this week. (The entertaining and witty video for "On Wit Da Show (Remix)" is already enjoying regular rotation on MuchMusic.) The disc features several laid-baid, lyrically tight tracks, but the highlights materialize when Kardinal's raw stage energy is captured -- and complemented by his self-produced beats. All those wanting to create a private Kardinal concert in the comfort of your own home, check "Friday Night" and chant gleefully along with The Offishall.
At a time when the Canadian hip-hop scene is just beginning to awaken, the mere association with a major record label is still a rare event. Kardinal has also stepped up and can boast a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music Canada and looks to get as much exposure as possible for Eye & I. Says Jason, "Long-term plans are me getting myself onto a major. Realistically, it's not because I want to get money or fame. I thought my dream was to get a major record deal so I could push a phat car. But my dream now is to touch as many people as possible, to be on a major label so that they can have the power to blow me up as far as I can go."
And with Toronto on side, he's out to conquer new crowds. After heading south in October for the infamous "How Can I Be Down" Entertainment Power Summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica, he not only had everyone running around yelling "Clack, clack!" but also promoted the recently distinguishable T-dot sound, affirming his power as a performer, regardless of location.
"At the show, it was 70 per cent American, five per cent Canadian, and the rest were all Jamaicans. It was a brand-new, foreign audience who had never heard of me, never heard anything. So when I did the show, they were going off! I felt like I was in Toronto."
Clack, clack... RE-LOAD.